While fashion is made to help you look and feel great, it can have an ugly cost to the environment and society.
The clothing and textile industries account for around 10% of carbon emissions and 20% of global industrial water pollution. The textiles industry is estimated to use 378 billion litres of water annually, mostly for cotton production. Even organic cotton uses a lot of water to manufacture it.
It takes approximately 2,000 litres of water to produce the cotton needed to make just one t-shirt or pair of jeans. Clothing can take a very extensive journey from points of origin to our wardrobes, often via fossil-fuel powered shipping vessels.
As well as impacting the environment, there can be major costs to society, such as workers being exposed to poor working conditions, and even having their lives put at risk.
Ways to reduce our fashion-based environmental footprints include buying fewer clothes, buying more of our clothes from op-shops, and repairing the clothing we have. According to Trusted Clothes, extending the life of your clothes by three months on average would reduce carbon and water footprints by 5-10%.
But when we do need new clothes, why not choose those that are as sustainably and ethically made as possible? From slow fashion with clothes made to last, to materials sourced from suppliers with sustainable approaches, to reused and recycled materials.
Many boutique and even mainstream designers are working to make their fashion production more sustainable, and we here at Sustainability Hackers wholeheartedly support this!
So here are seven ways to stay stylish while keeping sustainability in mind.
1. Revel in sustainable festival wear
One label that makes sustainable fashion look and feel amazing is Fairy Floss, with beautiful, striking, tribal designs that are also comfortable and durable, for on and off the dance floor. Focusing on stretchy cotton lycra that flatters any form, they add touches of leather, lace, frills, prints, studs, cuts and special washes to make for a distinctive aesthetic.
Fairy Floss designer Alex Lev, based in Byron Bay, applies a slow fashion ethos to the label, with designs that have lasting appeal rather than being trend oriented or consumerism driven.
“Our designs are timeless, our clothing is made to last in style and fashion,” said Alex.
“We believe in comfort and long lasting relationship with the garment, attention to details and durability.
“Our productions are small and are ethically made by a few families of tailors in Bali that we’ve been working with for nearly two decades.
“We strive to use natural fabrics and non-toxic dyes, and provide our garments in recycled paper bags or fabric bags,” he said.
Fairy Floss provides a backend support service for issues that might come up, like fixing something in a garment, including a few years later.
To keep their designs fresh and desirable, Alex and co-designer Revital Lev merge a sustainable ethos with creativity.
While recent seasons were inspired by a “Mad-Max, post-apocalyptic look” and “Vikings”, their latest designs are inspired by cityscapes after time spent in Melbourne.
Nature, steam punk and grunge elements also infuse their tribal designs.
2. Be arty in sustainable music video and performance wear
Musicians, artists and performers have unique opportunities to inspire others towards sustainable practices. A fashion designer in sync with this is Jonathan Pampling, who uses the name Athan Jon for his label.
As Athan Jon, Jonathan specialises in styling and making clothes for performance. He uses recycled materials and produces the clothes himself, creating an extraordinary example of what sustainable fashion can be, with an avant-garde twist.
Materials of choice range from recycled cardboard to found objects to thrift-store buys. While the art pieces are not always built to last, these often ephemeral designs can stand out and look amazing.
His designs can transcend to styling for photoshoots and stage clothing for musicians, etc., all the while helping his environmental messages reach wider audiences, educating and inspiring others.
His clothing is quite outlandish at times and attracts musicians, photographers, models and performance artists for photoshoots and on stage.
For sustainability, Jonathan believes that “second hand, thrift and waste” are the most sustainable of materials to use.
“Found objects are my favourite, so a found stick or shell is just incredibly inspiring to me to use in designs,” said Jonathan.
“I love finding things secondhand or given to me by friends. Reinventing designs can be fun and creatively challenging. I also love natural fibres and unusual fabrics.
“I apply paint and embellishments to enhance the theme and appeal which encourages long wear, low upkeep and sustainable evolution of the garment with low impact production.
“I am going through a no sewing-machine phase. This is to inspire and encourage others to participate in fashion at ground level with a hands on approach, and this promotes the saving of electricity which keeps the creations energy efficient,” he said.
To find out more visit Jonathan Pampling on Instagram. Jonathan encourages private consultations and concept developments with interested clients.
3. Get about in sustainable everyday wear
A recent article by Choice magazine provided information on several large clothing chains and how they are assessing how ethical their clothing manufacturing is. It’s well worth a look-see as it provides information on what to look for in a brand.
A simple way to find out how sustainable the practices of your clothing manufacturer are is to check their website for sustainable practice information. Let’s take a look at Cotton On, for example.
Cotton On is part of a growing movement of large retailers aiming to make their fashion more sustainable and ethical.
Cotton On is addressing sustainability through joining the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). BCI works with diverse stakeholders to improve social, environmental and economics factors in cotton farming communities around the world.
Through Kenya Cotton, Cotton On are also working with farmers in Kwale, Kenya to help them transition from subsistence farming to more sustainable cotton-farming practices.
Cotton On also have an Ethical Sourcing strategy and ensure their suppliers meet their 14 rules of trade through internal audits requiring such things as minimum wages are paid and no child labour is undertaken.
It’s heartening to see a big brand taking pride in making their fashion more sustainable and ethical.
Of course there are also plenty of smaller labels focusing on sustainably made everyday wear.
One such label is Vege Threads, an online store. They make stylish but simple T-shirts for men and women, as well as a range of other products like intimates and swimwear for women.
Their products are all 100% made in Australia in limited numbers. They use organic and eco-friendly materials like hemp and 100% organic cotton, as well as eco-friendly dyes such as natural plant dyes. They are accredited with Ethical Clothing Australia.
4. Get healthy in sustainable activewear
Another instance where you would want to feel comfortable and attractive while still minimising your environmental impact is if you go on a bushwalking date with your girlfriend or boyfriend.
Wilderness Wear’s locally made products are made with a focus on sustainability and are accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia. Made from materials such as Tasmanian Merino wool, with its associated animal welfare standards, their focus is on Australian made and their efforts towards sustainability are notable.
When taking care of your own health by doing exercise, try your hand at looking and feeling great in sustainably, ethically made activewear made by d+k. They are also accredited with Ethical Clothing Australia for the cut, make, and trim of their garments – made in their factory in Brisbane, Australia.
With a focus on sustainability in the manufacture of their products, they include recycled content in their predominantly Italian fabrics, with clothing made to be durable as well as feel comfortable.
Indeed, Ethical Clothing Australia’s website is a great place to hunt for ethically made clothing labels. The site includes links to the great range of boutique and mainstream Australian clothing labels that are accredited with them. Many of these labels also incorporate sustainable practices into their manufacturing, as is usually noted with their listings.
I must mention here that I am forever in love with my Etiko lowcut sneakers. As well as being Fairtrade sneakers, Etiko now make them organically.
5. Learn to make repairs!
Another way to keep your fashion sustainable is to consider learning to make repairs yourself.
Perth has recently started its own Repair Café where you can learn skills for repairing broken possessions like clothing and other items. As well as learning new skills in sustainability, at these repair cafes, you can make new, like-minded friends.
6. Become a DIY sustainable fashion designer and inspire others
For new budding fashion designers, Jonathan Pampling has some advice.
“The fashion industry leads the charge of what we wear so why not promote environmental awareness and become as ethical, green, eco and sustainable as you can, because you can truly make a difference,” said Jonathan.
“Learn how to use a sewing machine, know your fabrics, problem solve as much as you can, eliminate as many harmful environmental practices as possible, know how to hand-stitch, use safety pins, paint and dye things yourself.
“Stay healthy and creative and become an advocate for change,” he said.
7. Think about your fashion choices
Below, Jonathan Pampling and Alex Lev offer some practical tips for all of us to make our wardrobes more sustainable.